When high school students in Philadelphia return from their holiday break, many will discover school officials handing out free condoms and in 22 of the city’s high schools students will find condom dispensers. This is part of a campaign by the city to fight what is being called an “epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases in adolescents in Philadelphia.”
The city has passed out 4 million condoms since April of 2011 and there has been a decrease in STD rates, but officials say that teens still account for one-fourth of all new cases of STD. Once again the effort by schools to provide free condoms to students raises the question: Does the availability of condoms reduce reckless sexual behavior?
I have always found it difficult to accept the idea that free condoms lead to an actual reduction in risky sex among teens. Condoms have never been difficult to buy and have never been very expensive, so does the practice of passing out free condoms really change behavior? Is it logical to think that sexually active teens are having unprotected sex only because condoms are not available and too expensive? If teens want something they get it – drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.
When schools pass out condoms, the other question that arises is whether the availability of free condoms promotes sexual activity among teens. I was a shy teenager and I knew where to get condoms, but the fact that I could get condoms was not enough to change my behavior.
While talking about the new calls for stricter gun control in the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Newtown, CT, it has been important to address the human instinct to do something to immediately make the world a safer place, but the immediate reaction may do more to make us feel better than to actually make the world safer.
It is easier to pass out condoms than it is to teach responsible behavior. What leads to sexually transmitted diseases is behavior that is the result of a lack of personal control and personal responsibility. We are experiencing several generations of parents who have collectively failed to teach their children personal accountability.
The teens that are practicing risky sexual behavior could never be trusted to use a condom every time the opportunity for sex presented itself and passing out free condoms will do little to suppress the urge to act upon a sexual opportunity. The availability of condoms does nothing to promote responsible behavior, but allows officials to feel as if they are making a significant contribution to changing behavior.